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Gators open spring football with needed change in air

GAINESVILLE — In the recent weeks leading up to the start of Florida's spring football practice, every time coach Urban Meyer would run into Emmanuel Moody, his comment was the same.

"I walk by that guy every day and I don't say hello," Meyer said. "All I say is, 'I hope you're good.' "

So does every Florida fan.

For a school that hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2004, and really no run game to speak of last season (unless you count the quarterback and the star wide receiver), Moody is heralded as the answer to the Gators' prayers. A transfer from USC who sat out last season, he will make his official Florida debut when spring practice opens today.

Practice also marks the debut of three assistants. And whether it's coincidence or by design, the new staff will address areas of serious need: running back (Kenny Carter), secondary (Vance Bedford) and defensive line (Dan McCarney). Though keeping his staff intact the first three seasons was instrumental in building the program, Meyer said he believes the infusion of new blood will be good.

"Change has been refreshing," he said. "We've got some great ideas.''

But there is uncertainty.

"It's the unknown," said McCarney, who spent last season at USF. "There's always some unknowns with a veteran staff or team or players of coaches coming back and then there's a new group coming in. Spring football is such an important phase with any football team. You're developing leadership, you're developing heart, the toughness, the togetherness, the chemistry, a lot of that's built this time of year."

Meyer had finished nearly 20 minutes of his prespring practice news conference two weeks ago before the name Tim Tebow came up. The Heisman Trophy winner isn't the center of attention for maybe the first time since his arrival two years ago. While he's the least of Florida's concerns, Meyer said Tebow has issues to address, including his play in late-game drives.

The biggest issue may be the secondary, the weakest area last season.

"That position was obviously inadequate a year ago," Meyer said.

Bedford, a veteran of the NFL and most recently the Michigan secondary coach, said he'll have a good idea of what kind of players he has by the end of spring.

"Right now, what I know is that the University of Florida has great athletes," Bedford said. "When we get through with spring practice, I'm going to know if a young man is tough, is he going to tackle and can he make a play. Then I can tell you the type of players we have here. If you're not tough, you can't play. You can be the best athlete in the world, but if you're not willing to stick your face in something and make a play when the ball's in the air, you can't play."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

>>FAST FACTS

Florida spring practice

Key returnees: QB Tim Tebow; WR Percy Harvin; CB Markihe Anderson; WR Riley Cooper; DE Jermaine Cunningham; LB Dustin Doe; TE Cornelius Ingram; KR Brandon James; LB A.J. Jones; RB Kestahn Moore; WR Louis Murphy; K Jonathan Phillips; LB Brandon Spikes; OL Phil Trautwein; RB Mon Williams; DL Torrey Davis: S Jeremy Fincy; S Joe Haden; OL Maurkice Pouncey; OL Michael Pouncey; P Chas Henry; QB Cameron Newton; TE Aaron Hernandez; DE Justin Trattou; S Major Wright.

Notable injuries: DT Brandon Antwine (back); OL Simon Codrington (wrist), DL Javier Estopinan (ACL surgery); OL James Wilson (left knee sprain); OL Phil Trautwein (bone spurs in right foot); OL Maurice Hurt (severe stingers); QB John Brantley (left shoulder); LB Ryan Stamper (shoulder). OT Matt Patchan (shoulder surgery).

Spring priorities: Find a consistent running back and a true No. 2 quarterback to revitalize a potential two-quarterback system. Work on the no-huddle offense, which coach Urban Meyer hopes will add an offensive dimension. Get a jump-start for the early enrollees. Seek marked improvement from the returning defensive players, particularly in the secondary. Develop chemistry between players and three new assistant coaches.

Practice schedule: Today, Friday, Saturday, Monday, March 26, 28, 29, March 31, April 2, 4, 5, 7

Spring game: 1 p.m. April 12

On the Web: Updates at tampabay.com/sports/colleges/gators/

Antonya English,

Times staff writer

Gators open spring football with needed change in air 03/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 5:10pm]

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